Best Practices for Preventing Cycling-Related Injuries
Their good news? “The overall number of bicycle accidents in the country is declining.”
These folks believe that there are several reasons for this trend. Advocacy groups are getting better about “embracing the bicycle culture,” more cities are adding bike lanes and structural features that contribute to this trend, and drivers are slowly beginning to accept the fact that they must share the road.
But there’s another important factor contributing to this improving situation: Bicyclists are learning more about how to prevent all manner of injuries rather than just hoping to get lucky every time they climb on their favorite ride.
Here are some of the ways you can join this movement, so you don’t become an injury statistic.
How to Prevent Lower Back Pain
Sick and tired of feeling like your grandpa—roaming around while whining about your lower back pain? There may be no cure, but there is hope if you follow Dave Smith’s advice and adopt three techniques capable of mediating those painful aches.
These two easy-to-perform stretches won’t work if you don’t do them regularly.
Before you get out of bed each morning, bring your knees to your chest until you feel the stretch. Rock in and out of this position for 20 to 30 seconds.
Put your feet back on the mattress with knees bent and roll your knees as far to the left and right as you can, holding for 20 to 30 seconds.
Invest in a kettlebell to stretch your lower back every day. Stand with feet shoulder-width and toes pointed in the riding position, crouch with knees slightly bent, hold the kettlebell between your legs with both hands and swing it between and behind your legs.
Let your hips, not your arms, power the swings. Start with 25 sets, rest, and do another 25. Your goal is 75, three times a week, and your lower back pain should be reduced.
How to Prevent Numb Toes
Michael Nystrom knows a thing or two about numb extremities. As a two-time IRONMAN finisher and freelance writer, he uses his expertise to help cyclists deal with this annoying circumstance that can start with a tingle, morph into “pins and needles” and ultimately leaving you with toes (or the entire foot) that are so annoying, you can’t focus on your ride.
You may be surprised to learn that multiple factors are responsible for this numbness. They may be one or a combination of:
- Nerve compression
- Impaired blood circulation
- Lousy arch support (too much or too little)
- Ill-fitting shoes
- Bad cleat placement.
Left unattended, you could wind up with nerve damage and/or chronic pain. Begin your rehabilitation by loosening your shoes as soon as your toes get numb. If that does nothing but get you off your stride, consider replacing your shoes after consulting with an orthopedic specialist.
You can also try over-the-counter insoles and experimenting with your seat position. You may be riding too high or low. Either could lead to pinched nerves.
How to Prevent Hand Injuries
Leave it to the Aussies to cut straight to the topic without too much flourish. This website managed and authorized by the Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia, offers this succinct advice.
If your hand starts tingling or you feel numbness in your fingers or palms, you are well on your way to hand injuries if you don’t come up with ways to prevent them in the first place. These four tips may relieve your pain, and they’re worth a try before you see a medical professional.
1. How are you gripping your handlebars? Have you developed a grip that’s so powerful and tight, you could easily be the strangler in a Dr. Blake Mystery series program? Relax. Use a firm, relaxed grip instead.
2. Are your hands in exactly the same places they were when you left on your 10-mile ride? Not good. You need to change their position often, so your hand muscles don’t feel as though you’ve been lifting weights.
3. Keep your wrists straight. Start moving your hands around to compensate for terrain changes as you ride, or you risk straining your wrist muscles big time.
4. If trails and roads you frequent cause your bike to vibrate, employ handlebar tape, wear padded gloves or do both to offset and redirect that vibration and absorb shock.
5. Shake it up. Take one hand off the handlebar and shake it as a bug has landed on your arm. Repeat, with or without a bug.
How to Prevent Shoulder Pain
Are you feeling tense all the time? What’s wrong with this picture? You’ve fallen in love with cycling to reduce the tension that causes shoulder pain, but because you’re not focusing on keeping your body aligned and relaxed, you’re suffering shoulder pain anyway.
You may not be surprised to learn that the tips associated with preventing lower back pain, combatting numbness, and preventing hand injuries will all help you with your shoulder pain.
Add the following moves and see if you don’t feel downright mellow every time you ride.
- Relax your shoulders by shrugging every 15 minutes, whether you’re feeling shoulder pain or not.
- Keep your elbows bent to help prevent the fatigue that develops as a result of muscle tension.
- Don’t do your best imitation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Tilt your head frequently to relax neck muscles, and your shoulders will feel the love.
- Assess the width of your handlebars. You may be riding a bike fitted with handlebars that are too wide or narrow, so just trying to accommodate your body to this difference is enough to trigger shoulder pain.
- Master the art of neck and shoulder strengthening and stretching moves. “Develop a consistent routine of strengthening and stretching exercises to stay pain-free. Ask your trainer to add in some specific exercises or consider joining a yoga class,” says Aussie veteran cyclist Nicola Rutzou.
How to Prevent Knee Injuries
There are four reasons cyclists develop knee pain and injuries, say the medical professionals staffing four Heiden Orthopedic clinics in the state of Utah. How come they are so smart? Dr. Heiden was an Olympic competitor, so believe what he says.
Lest you think that all four reasons have to do with abusing body parts, you’ll be happy to learn that saddle height and saddle positioning happen to be two of the four reasons your knees get sore and injured.
If your seat is too high, you can develop pain along the back or outside of the knee. Exacerbate that by reaching too far for your pedals, and you can knock your hamstring tendon out of whack and stress out your iliotibial band.
Compound your knee pain by riding on a saddle that’s too low, and you could stress out your patellofemoral joint, leading to a painful kneecap. The position of your seat can add insult to injury.
If your saddle is positioned too far forward, you’re asking for knee pain, and if you situate it too far back, you could easily overextend your knee.
Your saddle isn’t the only bike accessory conspiring to injure your knees. Foot placement on pedals can also do the job. If you’re feeling pain on the inside of your knee, your feet may be too close or too far apart, either of which can cause joint stress.
Finally, overexertion can trigger knee injuries. Take it from Dr. Heiden: if you don’t want to wind up on his surgical table, treat every minor damage seriously with rest, take pain meds if prescribed, and never turn down an opportunity to get physical therapy.
Your knees will thank you.
10 General Cycling Safety Tips
One of the tried-and-true methods for preventing injuries while cycling is a no-brainer: obey general safety tips.
Attending to the areas above of your body makes a great start, but if you throw all caution to the wind and ignore general cycling safety tips, it won’t matter that you found a way to solve your lower back and shoulder pain.
We share ten handy tips posted by the city of Madison, Wisconsin—the state’s university hotbed and home to some of the most enthusiastic student bikers in the Midwest.
1. Wear a helmet. Who cares what your hair looks like as a result of donning this protective gear? Feel free to choose a good bike helmet that’s both fashion-forward and extremely efficient about keeping your brain safe and intact.
2. Stay visible. Only an idiot goes out at night dressed like a ninja. You want to be seen. This is best accomplished by wearing clothing with reflective trim and turning on your bike lights when it’s dark or almost dark.
3. Use hand signals, so motorists are aware of where and when you plan to turn. Motorists are easily distracted, which is why cyclists must be doubly efficient at nonverbal communication, and making eye contact helps.
4. Stay alert. We don’t have to tell you that obstacles, people, and potholes can appear with no warning in seconds. Your reflexes are ready to get you out of trouble—but they’ll only do their job if you stay alert.
5. Go with the flow. Driving with traffic is the only way to travel. Period.
6. Act like a car. We love this suggestion. It’s a reminder that it’s not nice to weave in and out of traffic like auto drivers who think they’re on a speedway. Ride predictably; check traffic flow regularly and up your chances of staying safe.
7. Don’t get distracted. Listening to music or chatting up a friend on your device may seem a great way to multitask, but peddling and scanning minus these distractions can help you live longer.
8. Obey all traffic signals, laws and patterns. Simple, right?
9. Adjust your bike before you ride. Realizing you’re uncomfortable amid traffic is not the right place to be, especially if you’ve got a long ride ahead to your destination.
10. Check your brakes and wheels, too. If you’ve got quick-release wheels, you’re especially vulnerable to having an accident.
Obey ALL of the Rules
Think those ten safety tips are all you need to know about staying injury-free? Not so fast, pedal pusher. These tips are equally critical to your health and wellbeing.
- Always yield to pedestrians and other vehicles when entering traffic. They were there first. Don’t be a jerk.
- We already suggested riding in the same direction as traffic flow, but it’s worth mentioning a second time.
- Sidewalks are for folks who walk. In most states, you break the law if you arbitrarily decide that they’re for bicycles, too.
- Just because you’re on a bike, that doesn’t mean traffic signals and signs don’t apply to you.
- Always yield the right of way before turning or moving to the left side of a lane to avoid a collision.
- Once upon a time, motorists had to use hand signals. Lights and blinkers now suffice. Nothing has changed for cyclists, so put your hands to good use.
- Check state-specific helmet laws that apply to you.
Acquire Good Biking Gear
Having grown weary of being reminded that your first consideration when gearing up for a ride should always be investing in a proper helmet, we won’t repeat the warning.
Still, there are other items to add to your wardrobe that can help you avoid injuries to other equally essential body parts.
1. Invest in a good pair of cycling gloves to prevent superficial hand injuries. Test the padding to see if it’s thick enough to offset nerve compression issues.
2. Riding shorts are more than fashion statements. The right shorts can reduce saddle irritation and give you the padding you need to protect the family jewels.
3. Clothing with reflective trim or brightly-colored and patterned textiles will get you the right kind of attention when lighting is iffy. Stand out in garments featuring “strobe lights” in the construction to add an extra layer of protection.
4. The right shoes. Understanding that correct fit is essential, consider adding toe clips or sole cleats to your gear. Both offer added protection and they’re inexpensive.
5. Having protected your brain with a safety helmet.
6. Use high-quality sunglasses to protect your precious eyes from the sun, bugs, and small road debris.
Did we miss anything? If your answer is yes, we want to hear from you!